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5-Hour EPISD Meeting: Leadership, Legal Counsel, PR Issues Discussed

It was an unusually long meeting for trustees in the El Paso Independent School District.

Tuesday afternoon, the school board met for about 5 hours and discussed several issues pertaining to the district’s leadership, legal counsel and image.

That image has been tainted lately by a number of scandals, including a hacking situation that once put sensitive student information at risk, ongoing federal investigations alleging the district’s top administrators routinely broke rules, and the resignation and arrest of EPISD’s superintendent Lorenzo Garcia on corruption charges.

However, EPISD’s board president Isela Castanon-Williams said that is not the main reason why trustees are considering hiring a third-party company to restructure and help make staff recommendations to its public relations department.

Castanon-Williams explained EPISD’s current public relations team has been understaffed for months. “It is supposed to be a 3 person staff but we currently have 1 person,” she said.

Interim superintendent Dr. Terri Jordan was given the green light by most trustees to begin searching for a consulting firm that could steer the district’s efforts to use more social media strategies.

“This consulting is not going to run in the hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Castanon-Williams. “In that sense it’s going to be a relatively low-cost endeavor.”

Trustees also voted to take the next step in considering the hire of an in-house counsel, meaning a full-time attorney and paralegal on EPISD’s staff instead of hiring out a lawyer’s services.

District leaders said the switch could bring down legal bills, which now total about $1 million per year.

No final decisions were made, but trustees voted to revisit the item next month when a job description and cost-estimate could be made available for evaluation.

Trustees spent about 2 hours in closed session, discussing some items including the “duties and responsibilities” of the interim superintendent. No action was taken on that item.

The board president said the interim superintendent had been handling a large workload since taking over for Garcia, including going through a large volume of open records request redactions and cooperating with federal investigators.

Castanon-Williams said the board did not modify any of Jordan’s duties or responsibilities. She said no timeline has been set to begin the search for a permanent superintendent but added Jordan will remain serving as the interim superintendent until then.

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